Well, it took until the third period again, but this time the Flames didn’t need a goal in the final few minutes to ensure a well-deserved regulation win. They got that accomplished a little earlier, and with an insurance goal, too!
Feel of the game
Having just come off of a 4-2 win over the Islanders not even a week before – a game the Flames thoroughly dominated, completely limiting most chances their opponent had – this one seemed set to start the exact same way. The Flames prevented the Islanders from even really getting shots on net or meaningful offensive zone time early on, all the while providing pressure of their own. The Islanders eventually started evening out the game later in the first, but Mike Smith was ready for them when they actually started getting pucks to the net.
The Flames came out dangerous to start the second, though, and that drew a penalty – one they capitalized on right away with an absolutely disgusting between-the-legs goal from Matthew Tkachuk. That gave them some life, but none of their followup scoring chances worked, and instead, the Islanders took advantage of a bad turnover – Tkachuk giveth, and Tkachuk taketh away – to even up the score. After successfully killing off some terse penalties of their own, the Flames had the chance to really capitalize when they were granted a 90-second five-on-three – only for them to not really do anything with it at all.
In typical Flames fashion, though, they were good for the third period. Mikael Backlund quickly got them the lead back, and when Rasmus Andersson added on just under two minutes later, that seemed to be the end of the game. When it wasn’t – when the Islanders were looking dangerous again, especially towards the end, even with the worst possible penalty to take (a too many men penalty with just under two minutes to go) – Smith fended them off, reportedly not hurting himself in the process, as the horrors of the 2017-18 season likely flashed before everyone’s eyes again on that save. The Flames couldn’t get the empty net, but it didn’t really matter; they got a decisive win and looked like they’d fully earned it.
The good news
Smith playing the puck attracts the most dramatic criticism, but the real thing to worry about him regarding his play this season is when he looks lost, can’t track the puck, and is either falling forward or flailing around in hopes that it’ll hit him and that’s how he’ll make the save. That’s when you can tell he isn’t on his game. He did not look like that once against the Islanders, which boasts a lot more confidence moving forward. If he can keep not looking like that – if he can keep playing like he did against the Islanders – then the Flames have to be feeling a lot better about their goaltending situation for the next couple of months. That was good against a good opponent.
Not just Smith, though, but the Flames really put together a team-based win. Nobody really stood out more than anyone else, aside from Tkachuk’s particularly fancy goal and Smith’s dramatic save at the end of the game. This is probably going to be kind of stupid to say, but especially after a deadline in which the Flames didn’t do much, there’s a certain increased confidence in them having that sort of collective game. Who was the weak link? Or did everyone just find a way to successfully contribute? It’s much more the latter than the former.
Although the Swedes deserve a specific shoutout. The Flames are up to five now, though only three of them dressed, and all three shone: back-to-back snipes from Backlund (who’s been looking particularly great since just before the all-star break) and Andersson (showing off exactly why he’s a regular on a powerplay unit) got them the win, and Elias Lindholm, with two primary assists of his own, made snap decisions to ensure the puck got to the goal-scorer. That, and it’s just fun to hear stories about all of the Swedes welcoming another to their ranks. The Swedes are great.
The bad news
You just gotta remind yourself that the Flames actually do have a top 10 powerplay in the NHL when you see things like their 90-second five-on-three. It worked out great in the end – the Flames got their third period goals – but that really could have been the start of the games slipping away if they hadn’t come back out with a good third period.
Other than that, the only blemish would really be the Islanders getting a stretch of chances of their own, which you can’t really complain about. It’s the NHL. Every team has those, no one team is completely perfect throughout an entire game. That and TJ Brodie taking a penalty right after a particularly tense penalty kill, but… that’s kind of it. There really isn’t much bad news to take away from this one at all.
Numbers of note
57.69% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF on the night. They were, once again, pretty good, especially in the first period with their play, and the third period by allowing things to close out mostly uneventfully once they took the lead.
80 – For the second time in his career, Johnny Gaudreau has hit 80 points in a season. The first time was when he had 84 points in 80 games in 2017-18. This year he’s on pace for 104. Six players have hit the 80-point mark so far this season; Gaudreau is tied for fourth overall in league-wide scoring.
71 – Remember how Lindholm’s career year before this was 45 points? He’s currently on pace for 92, so there’s an entirely reasonable chance he doubles it. Seventeen players in the NHL have hit the 70-point mark so far this season; Lindholm is tied for 14th.
60 – Tkachuk is now a 60-point player for the first time in his career. He wouldn’t have even reached that last year, either – due to a season partially shortened by injury, partially by suspensions, Tkachuk was on pace for 59 points in a full 82-game season. So it’s officially-officially a career year for him now. Thirty-nine NHLers have at least 60 points so far this season; the Flames are the only team with four of them. (Mark Giordano is waiting – he’s at 59 points.)
25 – Tkachuk also set a new career high with his 25th goal of the season. He had 24 last year.
38 – Backlund’s been going on a tear of his own as of late, but you might not have noticed he’s nearly at 40 points on the season. For the past six years he’s been good for half a point-per-game each season, and that’s continuing. He’s on pace for the second 50-point season of his career. He also has 17 goals on the year, on pace for 22, which would tie his career high.
82.35% – TJ Brodie’s single-game corsi. It’s not a thing I like to note unless it’s an unusual number, like this. Only three corsi events went against him at 5v5 all game.
0.963% – Smith’s save percentage. Going by save percentages and save percentages only, this was Smith’s fourth-best game of the year, behind two shutouts and a 0.966% effort that was almost a shutout before the Coyotes got a late goal on him. It narrowly beats out the 0.962% game Smith had against the Ducks four days earlier.
What an all-around solid win against a team that’s also up there in the standings. There’s a month and change to go in the season and though there’s still a lot of hockey left to play, the Flames might just hang on for the division title.
If anything else, they’ve gotta be feeling good about themselves. They’ve won games they shouldn’t have along the way, but they’ve really earned themselves the chance to win their first division crown since 2005-06. Not to say they’re going to – they pulled away a little from the Sharks on Tuesday, but they’re still very much a threat – but this late in the season? And they’re still going at it? I think that has completely snuck up on all of us but it’s so fun.